Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ARCADIA FALLS: Secret Love Child?

I feel like I can shout, “I’m back, reading world!” I have spent the past few days hunkered down with all the books that are coming in (I treated myself to a little shopping spree on Amazon, and I re-read a couple of my old favorites while I was waiting for the new books). I feel refreshed, and my addiction to reading has started anew. I kicked off my new reading list by reading Carol Goodman’s Arcadia Falls.

My overall opinion is that Arcadia Falls is another wonderful Goodman book that I will treasure and look forward to re-reading. And yet… it is another Goodman book. There are qualities I abosutely adore about Goodman’s style of writing--her ability to fuse academia with fairy tales and/or mythology and/or folklore with a current storyline is not only refreshing but also intellectually invigorating. I adore her work, and by extension, I adore her. However, about a fourth of the way into her new book, I felt like I was re-experiencing The Lake of Dead Languages but with a fairy tale twist (instead of a mythology twist), which then led me to this conclusion: If books could reproduce, Arcadia Falls would be the secret love child of The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water.

Of the two, The Lake of Dead Languages was definitely the dominant gene, but The Seduction of Water left its trace on their love child with a fairy tale surreptitiously based on a secret life of one of the characters playing an integral role in the story overall.

The similarities between The Lake of Dead Languages and Arcadia Falls extend from the settings to the characters to the plots themselves.

  • Setting: both books are set primarily in a boarding school in upstate New York, and in both books, the story's climax takes place in the dead of winter (with the primary character having to drive in a snowstorm to get back to the school to stop the madness going on there).

  • Characters: both books feature a single mother (in one, a divorced mother with a young daughter; in the other, a widowed mother with a not-as-young daughter) who, at the beginning of the book, begins teaching at said school in upstate New York and who, at the end of the book, discovers something new about herself.

  • Plot: both books have the plot thicken with the untimely death of a student (there are even similarities in two of the death scenes); both books have a twist in the plot that then shows the characters have been operating under false assumptions; both books have a hidden journal that plays an integral role in the plot development.

Going through the similarities (I could go further, but I don’t want to be too much of a spoil sport for anyone who wants to read either or both books) makes me wonder if some of the similarities are borne out of Goodman’s own life or her fascination with particular themes and possible twists in stories.

Her books have an undercurrent theme of "people aren’t who they seem to be." This theme is often hand-in-hand with another theme in her books: "people who don't know their own pasts can be hurt by that lack of knowledge in the present/future." The ones to blame for those characters not knowing their own pasts are often the characters' parents. Perhaps the moral to her stories is for parents to be honest with their children about their pasts. I am so intrigued I'm considering doing more research on Carol Goodman to find out if this is something that is a moral for her own life story.

In Arcadia Falls, she focuses on a specific fairy tale called The Changeling Girl, which was oddly reminiscent of the fairy tale written for The Seduction of Water (The Selkie’s Daughter). In both books, the fairy tale provided the backdrop for the main story line so that in a way the fairy tale mirrored something going on in the plot and, in fact, provided some of the underlying reasons for why characters in the book weren't who they seemed to be.

While pointing out all the similarities, the books have enough differences that even if you’ve read one book, I’d still suggest reading the other books. Although I felt, at times, that I was re-experiencing The Lake of Dead Languages, I also felt that Goodman had pulled out the best parts of The Lake of Dead Languages and of The Seduction of Water to write a book that demonstrates her growth as a writer. It’s like reading a reinvention of a familiar story; in fact, the fairy tale in Arcadia FallsThe Changeling Girl, was itself a reinvention--the fairy tale began as one story and, over time, morphed into a new story based on the storyteller’s life changes. I like to think that by reading all three books, I’ve managed to witness a reinvention of a story Carol Goodman considers personal (whether that “personal” aspect is autobiographical in any way is--as of right now--unknown to me).

If you've read these books, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment?

Happy reading!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Books in the Mail

I got a package from Amazon on Thursday (the most exciting day of my week). In it were three books I've been anxious to get my hands on for months:

Arcadia Falls

If you recall one of my previous posts on my favorite authors (My Fave Five: Spotlight on My Favorite Authors), you might remember that these three books are written by three of those five authors (Carol Goodman, Marian Keyes, and Sarah Addison Allen). So my opening the package from Amazon was really my opening a treasure trove.

I know what I'll be reading for the next few weeks--now I just have to decide which order to read them in... Any suggestion?

Sunday, March 21, 2010


As my third installment of my Childhood Challenge, I chose to read a book from the Choose Your Own Adventure series; the particular book I chose is Mystery of the Maya by R. A. Montgomery (book #5).

As a kid, I went to the library and excitedly picked out new Choose Your Own Adventure books; I don't remember any single book in particular that I enjoyed in the series--I just remember liking the series as a whole. I remember being enthralled with the idea that I could somehow influence the outcome of the story, and I would read the book as many times as it took to find all the possible endings. At a young age, I wanted to write, and Choose Your Own Adventure gave me the ability to help create a story without having to come up with any material on my own. For a kid like me, it was a win-win situation. I stopped reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books at a relatively young age; in fact, I don't think I can remember getting any past second or third grade, at the latest. And I never bought a copy of my own of any of the books until last night when I picked up a copy at Barnes & Noble.

I was so excited about the book that I started reading as soon as I got home. Within ten minutes, I had finished my first adventure and was left feeling . . . frustrated. The ending came quickly and cheesily. Because I had chosen to go directly to Chichen Itza to find my friend Tom, who had disappeared while researching collapse of the Mayan civilization, I was faced with the choice to join a mission with the aliens in the UFO perched above one of the great pyramids that had been used for human sacrifice. I didn't accept, so my story ended with "you missed your big chance." I went back to see what would have happened if I had accepted, and one short paragraph later, my adventure was again at "The End," but this time I was flying through space on a ride to an intergalactic conference with no idea what would happen next.

I now know why I stopped reading the series at a relatively young age and why I never bought any of the books for myself. While the idea is novel and I loved (and still do love) the thought of being a part of the construction of a story already printed, the outcome is not grand. The stories have interesting set ups and locations and characters, but the endings come too quickly and reach too far beyond anything resembling reality. I'm all for reading fantasy, but an intergalactic conference with aliens is a bit too much for me. I understand the necessity of having quick endings in a book that has so many possible endings but only so much space to write those possible endings (not to mention the different possible middles before readers even get to the endings). The quick endings make the books more suitable to young readers who don't mind quick resolutions and who, in fact, might want quick resolutions.

My adult experience with the series has been disappointing, but I still fondly remember my trips to the library as a kid to get a new Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you have a kid in your life who loves to read (or who might love to read if given the right book), I would suggest you take them to the library to check the series out. If you have a kid in your life that loves the series, you might want to encourage them to write their own endings to go along with some of the prompts; I think one of the best aspects to this series is that is allows young readers to start experimenting with writing on their own without needing to come up with an entire storyline. For that alone, I applaud the series (even after my disappointment as an adult reader).

Happy reading or re-reading!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reading Slump of '10

I've hit a slump.  A reading slump, that is.  I haven't cracked open a fun book to enjoy in well over two weeks, and my non-reading state leaves me feeling a bit ... slumpy.  I want to read, I want to get my 'joie de lire' on, but I just haven't.  Why is that?  Why is it that someone, like me, who enjoys reading so much doesn't do it all the time?

Above is a picture of an actual slump (taken from the Giant's Causeway website).  Notice ridges in the hillside that show the ground is collapsing beneath itself and causing somewhat of a landslide.  Thus, the metaphorical slump of a downward spiral where things collapse and pull the slumped person down.  *Sigh*

As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in my big, comfy chair with my laptop perched on my lap.  I'm wistfully staring at the small bookcase beside my chair, which holds the three books I'm currently reading and my Kindle (which stores the other two books I'm reading).  Just writing that sentence makes me wonder if part of my problem is that I started too many books at once and now feel overwhelmed with the thought of getting through them all.  But, no, that can't be it because I've read had times in the past where I've had more than five books cracked open during the same time frame.

I want to read, so why don't I?  I know I can provide a short-term answer.  At this very moment, I can't let myself get caught up into a book because I'm taking a short break from grading and getting prepped for courses and meetings that will take place later on today.  In fact, I blame my schedule for my not picking up a book to read--plainly put, every time I sit down and have the mental capacity to read, I am reading something that's not for personal enjoyment.  Instead, I am reading something I have to read.  Maybe it's the fact that I have a job that requires me to read that pulls me away from my personal reading time.

I want to blame all sorts of external things for my lack of reading, yet I know it all boils down to me: I go through periods in my life where I will be super-dedicated to something and then periods where I can't get myself to do that very thing I had been so wrapped up in for weeks/months.  I'll read book after book for a few weeks and then not pick up a book for a while.  I'll do crosswords every day for a few weeks and then not even want to look at a crossword for a month.  I don't like that all-or-nothing feeling and wish I could have a bit of moderation in my life while still being productive, but that just doesn't seem to be me.

Normally, I wouldn't be so concerned about my reading slump.  But now that I've started a reading blog, I feel like I'm letting somebody out there down when I miss a posting or don't have anything inspired to say about books because I'm not currently wrapped up in one or two or three.  Then again, I can't be so pompous to assume that my readers have their lives on hold because I haven't posted.  Still ... I feel a sense of duty to be regular in my posting because I hope there are readers on the other end wanting to find a new post on my blog.

I've missed two postings in the past five days, and I'm going to be honest--I will also miss tomorrow's post.  I'm working on something for Friday, so if all goes well, I'll be back on track.  I'm also scheduling in 30 minutes of reading for tonight.  I don't feel like reading for fun should have to be scheduled, but I'm worried that if I don't push myself to get back into the reading habit, it may be another couple weeks before I get back into reading.

Are any of you out there like me?  Do you have reading slumps, too?  If so, how do you get over them?